"To be ignorant of one's ignorance is the malady of the ignorant."
- Amos Bronson Alcott

I believe most of us can agree that the word “ignorance” has a negative connotation associated with it. The dictionary, however, simply defines it as a state of being “uneducated, unaware, or uninformed.” On its own the word does not imply the intent we’ve attached to it; typically when we use it we mean to describe someone who has is in some way, shape, or form, made the choice to be “ignorant”.  Assuming ignorance is the intent to be uneducated, unaware, or uninformed and also that our primarily goal is to improve ourselves instead of projecting a false sense of improvement on others: what the hell are we ignoring? And why?

I can’t speak for you but I tend to ignore things I don’t like and in regard to myself I tend to ignore things I don’t like about myself. The reason is obvious: it’s pleasing to exist within a mental state that excludes unpleasant self-realizations while only accepting pleasant ones.  This is, as I mentioned before, existing within a state of chosen ignorance.

Using this reasoning ignorance is not only intentional but a perception of a fault or an idea that something isn’t what it “should” be (whether or not this is an accurate reflection is another subject).  Here are three examples of faults I perceive about myself:

  1. Procrastinating on house-hold projects.
  2. Inconsistent parenting style when tired/under stress.
  3. Slow at changing gears (socially speaking).

Now if I ignore these faults out of hand I'm not going to make any conscious progress on them but will be slightly irritated from time to time, in-as-much as I allow myself to acknowledge them, before sweeping them under the carpet.  If I focus too much on any of these faults I can end up like a deer in the headlights, so intent on the object of my focus that I've given it power over myself.  But if I acknowledge a fault for what it is and transform it--imagine that!

From a Taoist perspective one can view a fault very much as the intersection between two opposing forces (Yin and Yang).  Not to be "punny" about such a serious subject but suppose this intersection is called a "fault line" and that when two opposing forces creating the "fault line" move or release energy they grind against each other causing the "fault" to become readily obvious (i.e earthquake).  View this as neither good nor bad, simply a physical phenomena, and learn to affect the forces at play.

Now lets try it.

Example #1:  Procrastinating on house-hold projects.

If there are two constants for any home owner (well, most of us at least) it's the mortgage and half a dozen household projects that are either in the works, planned, or a regularly reappearing wet dream.  I am no exception.  As I write this I need to do a fair amount of garden work (which is never ending), am in the process of painting four window planters I recently built, need to varnish a coat rack I spent the last two days staining, am putting plans in the work to take the wallpaper down in one room, paint it, put up wainscot, and last but not least build a recessed bookshelf under the stairs (and that's not to mention any of my home improvement wet dreams).  Sometimes I find myself thinking about these projects instead of actively planning or engaging in them which causes me to reflect on myself and find fault with my behavior.

What are the two forces?

Though there is interest in completing a project the initial force is really desire to actively engage in home improvement projects.  The opposing force is created by the choice (conscious or otherwise) to engage in activities other than actively engaging in home improvement projects.  The fault line is caused by this contrast.

Solution space?

Put more energy into active engagement on household projects...or consciously accept the choice not to engage in them and by doing so stop wasting unnecessary emotional and psychological energy on the idea of doing them.  Problem solved.

Example #2:  Inconsistent parenting style when tired/under stress.

As most parents can agree it's difficult to be a "good" parent when one has just finished working a twelve hour day, gotten groceries, made dinner, and been tied up in any number of other duties that preclude one from being able to complete any house-hold projects.  Coming home to an argumentative "tween" who's primary argument these days is, "My friend's parents let them do this" and "My friend's parents let them do that" is more than ample catalyst for one to take all of one's bottled stress and project it onto the first available target.  And lets face it, children do not understand the stressful and often complicated life of an adult and thus push, push, push, effectively screaming out, "Hey, look over here, I've painted a bulls eye on my freakin' forehead!!!!" 

If you're not a parent, trust me, this is just the way of things.

It's very easy under these circumstances to become inconsistent in my relationship to my daughter.  My tolerance level isn't high, my ability to empathize and listen is equally challenged, and children, bless their miserably adaptive and perceptive brains, can and will spot this and take advantage of it to get what they want.  Of course I want to be consistent, I want to be a "good" parent, I want to be a positive role model my daughter can look up to and count on in good times and bad.  I want her to know that whatever life throws our way we're going to take it on with level heads and a positive attitude.

What are the two forces?

It's important to me that I feel like I'm doing a good job as a parent and that my daughter can look up to me but when push comes to shove I'm most interested in providing her with everything she needs to become a healthy, balanced, and well adjusted adult--my "feelings" are irrelevant in this regard.  My desire to provide a consistent parenting style, which is based on years of psychological background and recognition that I sometimes fall into a "reactive" parenting style when under stress, creates a perception of fault, a perception that is useful to me as an evolving parent.

Solution space?

The easy way out is to simply say, "I'm doing the best I can!"--and to be honest I have on more than one occasion bailed out in this manner.  Since my main priority (or force) is my daughter's mental, emotional, and psychological well being I choose to recognize my perceived shortcomings as being valid, accept the cognitive dissonance created by the contrast between my desire to be a consistent parent and the reality that I don't always meet that goal, and learn from it.  I use those moments of insight to better myself.  Do I need to get more sleep?  Eat healthier?  Jog more?  Work less?  Reevaluate my priorities?  Spend more time with my daughter?  Change how I interact with her?

The contrast between two forces can be a catalyst for change.  The energy released by them can light the way.

Example #3:  Slow at changing gears (socially speaking).

I have often accused myself of being socially retarded and frankly this is not far from the truth.  For example I am a notorious multitasker.  I can watch television, listen to the radio or music, browse the internet, write an e-mail, talk to someone, and parent my daughter at the same time (while, believe it or not, procrastinating on a home improvement project!).  One of my biggest stumbling blocks, as I've come to recognize over the years, is my inability to STOP using the computer and look at someone when they're talking to me (this is especially true at work where I seem to be behind on a perpetual basis).  My reason (or excuse) for this behavior was growing up with a blind father.  Helping him around the house was a norm and since I never had to look at him in the face when discussing whatever we were doing I grew into an adult that didn't feel there was a real need to look someone in the face while I was actively engaged in something.

Well, people don't work this way.  People assume that if you're looking at them you're giving them your attention, if you're not then you're not.  For better or worse that's the social norm for a species that bases many of it's perceptions on visual queues.

What are the two forces?

My behavior and how it contrasts to the social norm.

Solution space?

For much of my life my solution was to ignore the social norms and push other people into understanding the "bigger picture" and asking (demanding) that they accept me for who I was.  That didn't work.  Some people don't want the bigger picture, most people don't have time or energy, and though people on some level want to accept others they also want to be accepted--and more importantly:  validated.  Wasn't it hypocritical of me to want that acceptance without first demonstrating I could give it?  So the more recent solution has been to turn away from the keyboard and give people my full attention.  Not easy (nor efficient as it often causes me to fall miserably behind in my work)--but then it's a matter of priority.  Am I more interested in the five minutes I loose or building a solid social foundation with those my life touches?


Now that I've come to the end of this page you may have noticed I've spent very little time writing about ignorance and a lot of time focusing on recognizing those things we might ordinarily ignore, why, and what benefits there are to "taking the bull by it's horns", so to speak.  I'll be the first to admit that this isn't an easy way to live.  It is a path to a larger way of seeing things.  It is the way of the spiritual warrior.